America’s car safety regulator has said it is opening a formal investigation into Tesla’s Passenger Play feature.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that Passenger Play, which allows games to be played on the large centre screens while moving could distract drivers and lead to more crashes.
Tesla owners have been able to entertain passengers whilst on the move with games since December last year. Previously, Passenger Play was only available to be used whilst the car was stationary.
The NHTSA believes this could affect 580,000 Tesla vehicles sold since 2017 and includes model 3, S, X, and Y vehicles.
The NHTSA said it would “evaluate aspects of the feature, including the frequency and use scenarios of Tesla Passenger Play.”
It also stressed that the main problem with Passenger Play was that it “is visible from the driver’s seat and can be enabled while driving the vehicle.”
Tesla has not commented on the news.
Earlier this month, the New York Times raised concerns around the game feature, which allows passengers to play solitaire, a jet fighter game, and a conquest strategy scenario amongst other games. A warning on the centre screen does warn that:
“Playing while the car is in motion is only for passengers.”
According to the Times, the game feature asks for confirmation that the player is a passenger but that drivers could simply press a button and pretend that they are a passenger.
NHTSA guidelines from 2013 encourage manufacturers “to factor safety and driver distraction-prevention into their designs and adoption of infotainment devices in vehicles.”
The guidelines also “recommend that in-vehicle devices be designed so that they cannot be used by the driver to perform inherently distracting secondary tasks while driving.”
Of course, Tesla and the NHTSA have a long and storied history of bumping heads. Earlier this month, it was revealed that the agency and the automaker are discussing faulty Autopilot cameras, for example.